Passionova puts down early Royal Ascot marker

While the temperature may have been hovering around freezing at Lingfield, trainer George Baker was already dreaming of Royal Ascot following the impressive victory of Passionova.

Mummy Bear was expected to give Ryan Moore another winner in the Ladbrokes Watch Racing Online For Free Fillies’ Novice Stakes – but Richard Hannon’s odds-on shot had no answer to Passionova, who was having just her second run.

Sent off a 15-2 chance, the three-year-old looked a different proposition to when finishing sixth on debut.

Passionova (left) has big-race ambitions later in the year
Passionova (left) has big-race ambitions later in the year (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Ahead of her that day was Mahale and it was that rival who chased her home on this occasion, but this time Passionova was five and a half lengths to the good.

Baker said: “I’ve always liked her and she was a lovely filly to pick up at the breeze-up sale.

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“I’ve given her plenty of time and she’s really stepped up today and she’ll go further.

“Shane (Kelly) was very impressed to the extent that he mentioned the Sandringham, which is very exciting, and I think we’ll put her away and wait for the turf.”

Galahad Threepwood could be a decent prospect for Mick Channon given the way he followed up a recent win in the Betway Apprentice Handicap.

He scored on his handicap debut at the track last month, but was 6lb higher in a better race on this occasion.

Galahad Threepwood and George Bass lead the field
Galahad Threepwood and George Bass lead the field (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

George Bass offset that with his 5lb claim and the way he beat the well-bred John Gosden runner Moohareeba by four lengths suggested he probably would have won without that.

Assistant trainer Jack Channon said of the 4-6 favourite: “He really has turned a corner between three and four and is very progressive.

“He clearly loves this track. We’re very happy with the way he did it and my first inclination would be that he will have a short break before we look at other options, including on turf.”

Bass said: “It’s nice that I’m getting quite a few rides for outside stables, but even nicer that that was one for the boss and he’s a real progressive individual as you saw.”

Cieren Fallon (left) drives Twilight Heir to victory
Cieren Fallon (left) drives Twilight Heir to victory (Alan Crowhirst/PA)

Cieren Fallon was on the board for Qatar Racing as Twilight Heir (3-1) won the Get Your Ladbrokes Daily Odds Boost Handicap.

His sole success last year came at Catterick and while he only had two to beat, he was the outsider of the three for Michael Bell.

“Mr Bell has done a really good job with this horse. I’ve sat on him a few times at home and he’s an easy ride,” said Fallon, who flies out to Saudi Arabia next week for the mount on Oxted on the Saudi Cup undercard.

“He jumped a bit awkward and I rode it like a piece of work. I didn’t want to get done for a turn of foot so I kept him rolling down the hill. He’s done really well through the winter this horse.”

Baker branching out in Bahrain

Trainer George Baker is excited about setting up a satellite yard in Bahrain.

Baker, who has enjoyed his best days with the likes of Belgian Bill and Boomshackerlacker, has never been afraid to travel his horses – including for several notable wins in France.

He also won on the ice at St Moritz in February with Wargrave, a recent winner over hurdles.

Friday sees the Bahrain International Trophy run for the second time – with plenty of British interest in the shape of Lord Glitters, Desert Encounter and Global Giant. Japanese star Deirdre is another lining up and is set to be ridden by Hollie Doyle.

“We are hugely excited at the official announcement of a long-term partnership between the Rashid Equestrian & Horseracing Club and George Baker Racing, which signals our long-term commitment to horse racing in the Kingdom of Bahrain, and we look forward to the establishment of a satellite yard in the coming months,” said Baker.

“We have been very impressed with the commitment and vision of the REHC.

“The quality of the field for the upcoming Bahrain International Trophy is testament to the quality of the racing surface and the facilities on site, and we are excited to become a part of an ambitious and burgeoning horse racing jurisdiction.”

Wargrave has Baker dreaming of big things on Southwell return

Wargrave fuelled more “mad dreams” for trainer George Baker when he added a maiden victory over hurdles at Southwell to a remarkable equine CV which already contains a ‘white turf’ title at St Moritz.

Wargrave won the Grosser Preis von St Moritz on his stable debut for Baker in February, having previously run in the Group One National Stakes as a two-year-old for Fozzy Stack in Ireland and since taken in Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood this summer.

After the son of Galileo had proved himself equally adept over jumps, beating odds-on favourite Hooper by a length in the Sky Sports Racing HD Virgin 535 Maiden Hurdle, Baker cited “America, via the Guatemalan Derby” as possible future destinations.

Slightly closer to home for the Sussex trainer, but on no smaller stage, Wargrave has sparked hopes of spring targets at Aintree or Cheltenham if he can manage to “sneak into” a big handicap.

“I brought him all the way up here to Southwell, from the southern Riviera of Sussex, hoping it would snow – because he goes on that!” Baker said with a smile, after the four-year-old had prevailed at 11-4 under Adrian Heskin, on just his second attempt over hurdles.

“I’m delighted with him,” he added.

“We do have a bit of a mantra – ‘have horse, will travel’, always pressing the gamble button and going off to strange places and fun places with winning chances.”

Baker is perhaps best known for the globetrotting exploits of his 2013 Royal Hunt Cup winner Belgian Bill – and in Wargrave, he appears to have unearthed another kindred spirit.

“Belgian Bill took us round the world, and this fellow likewise,” he said.

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“Who knows where we’ll end up? He might be a type for America at some point – we’ll see, one step at a time.

“America, via the Guatemalan Derby – I think that would be the obvious one.”

Other targets will come first, on home soil.

“By the end of the season, maybe he’ll be sneaking into the bottom of one of those better handicaps if things drop right,” said Baker.

“We’re never ones for getting ahead of ourselves. But I think a flat track probably suits – so I suppose if everything went perfectly, he’d maybe the type who could end up in a nice race at Aintree, because I’d have thought that track would probably suit him.

“But there’s another place called Cheltenham along the way. To add a Cheltenham winner to our Royal Ascot winner would be beyond my wildest dreams.

“But you have to have mad dreams in this game, as we all know. So I’ll drive home from here with a few.”

Wargrave has already made a lifelong dream come true for his owner Paul Bowden.

“He was a proper horse on the Flat,” said Baker.

“He’s been a real star, and I’m delighted for his owner Paul. He’s been a great supporter of ours, and his dream was to win that race in St Moritz – now the dream is racing on a bit longer!

“He did a great job for us in St Moritz, which is what the owner bought him for – he wanted a horse to win that big race over there.

“He got that job done, (but) then got a bit bored of the stalls through the summer.”

The solution was a comparatively short journey for Wargrave, for expert jumping tuition from triple Gold Cup-winner Best Mate’s former trainer and schooling doyenne Henrietta Knight.

Baker said: “If you want your horses to jump well, you send them to the best, so we sent him down to Hen’s, and all credit to her – she’s been a massive part of turning this horse’s mind around.

“He was just a bit sour through the summer, and he went down there for two weeks with Hen, and that’s been the making of him – he jumped beautifully at Exeter the other day.

“We’re mainly a Flat yard, but we love having a few jumpers round the place.

“He’s an exciting horse for a different discipline – if we can have a bit of fun with him over hurdles, so be it.”

Wargrave was not the only notable winner on the day when jumping returned for the first time to Southwell following a two-month suspension of its National Hunt fixture list while investigations were carried out into a spate of fatalities.

Despite two fallers and other non-completions on the eight-race card, there were no reports of serious injury.

Paul Nicholls’ Barbados Buck’s, meanwhile, also scored over hurdles for the first time.

The Stewart family’s well-related five-year-old served notice of his potential by relishing a step up in trip to win the Free Tips Daily On Novices’ Hurdle by two and a quarter lengths at 11-4 under Bryony Frost.